Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta
For 15 days the district of Sewon in Bantul regency has been transformed into the capital city of a banana republic.
A government-sponsored festival that began Nov. 5 is showcasing more than 50 varieties of banana from Bantul regency at the Agriculture Education Office on Jl. Parangtritis.
Head of the Bantul Forestry and Farming Agency Edy Suharyanto said Thursday the festival aimed at increasing people's awareness of the high nutritional value of bananas, adding that many people considered bananas inferior to other fruits, such as apples and pears.
"Bananas contain similar amounts of magnesium to an apple. Magnesium is good for our body's health and stamina. Bananas, however, are also rich in fiber, which is good for our cholesterol level," he said.
"We organized this festival specifically to improve the banana's image."
Each of 17 districts in Bantul have sent at least three farmers groups to participate in the festival, resulting in more than 50 different banana varieties on display.
Scoring and selection of the festival's bananas are based on several factors, including arrangement, the number of bananas on each stem and the smoothness of the banana skin.
The festival also seeks to preserve rare varieties of banana, such as the pisang raja, which can command a price of up to Rp 500,000 per stem.
"I think this is a good chance to give an added economic value to bananas," Edy said.
Marketing, he said, was the main problem behind farmers' reluctance to grow bananas.
"It's still difficult to sell bananas. Naturally, when trade is still low, we can't expect many people to join in the business of planting bananas."
A member of the Sedyo Mukti farmers group, Sunaryono, said his group has difficulty in selling its products. Sales are heavily dependent on individuals and walk-in buyers.
"We hope the government will soon establish a banana market where we can sell our harvest in bulk. The government should also improve the road infrastructure to enable us to send our product quickly to the market," he said.
In the last two years, the Bantul administration has provided assistance to nine farmers groups in growing bananas. Edy estimated that in Bantul alone there were more than 400,000 banana trees.